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Ending a pregnancy for fetal abnormality

Coping with bereavement - men's experiences

Every man we talked to said they felt very sad about the loss of the child, though some felt they had not been as deeply affected as their wives or partners. Several men said they were unprepared for having such strong feelings afterwards. Several had talked about their experiences informally with someone outside the family. (Also see 'Counselling and other kinds of support'.)

 

He felt great sympathy for his wife but didn't feel the loss as much as she did.

He felt great sympathy for his wife but didn't feel the loss as much as she did.

Age at interview: 37
Sex: Male
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Probably a combination of both actually. I'm sure that I didn't feel the loss as deeply as she did. But it was very upsetting for me to see her going through what she was going through - it makes me sound like I was a spectator and it wasn't like that - but I'm sure she felt the whole situation a lot more deeply than I did. And I think that's probably as she said because at the end of the pregnancy you expect to have a baby, and we didn't.

I don't really remember talking to anyone about it, no. And I guess in a way that's because men are expected to not sort of be emotional about these things, and I don't really have any family or... close - well I won't say I don't have close friends because obviously that makes me sound very sad [smiles]. But I don't have any family that I can talk to. And, I suppose in a way I was happy just being there to support [wife]. 

I'm not sure that talking to anybody else would have made much difference at the time, because its something - the emotions are very internal - and I don't know that there's much that can be said that can make any difference.

 

Describes how he and his wife felt extremely sad for some time after the termination and that his...

Describes how he and his wife felt extremely sad for some time after the termination and that his...

Age at interview: 38
Sex: Male
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I don't think either of us were prepared for feeling so sad for such a extended period of time. And here we are sort of 18 months on from the, from the termination, and those feelings are still there, it's just that you have a longer period of time between each time when you feel, well... when you do just burst into tears. And that's not just, that's not just my wife that's me was well. 

Sometimes you think it's just not fair. I've become more emotional, I think I've become more emotional, more... I get upset, I get more emotional easier than before. And that is not just getting upset, but if I'm really happy then I'll remember that, you know, yeah I am really happy and that, you know, life is still good and I'll, you know, I feel myself welling-up then. 

I think the whole experience has made us realise that, that life's too short to worry about a lot of things, and it's changed our outlook I think to certain things. 

Many men believed that talking about the termination to friends or a counsellor would not help them feel better about what had happened and that they preferred to deal with it in their own way. Several said that getting back to normality - particularly going back to work - had been the best thing for them. 

 

Found it difficult to talk to friends about the termination and was offered some help through his...

Found it difficult to talk to friends about the termination and was offered some help through his...

Age at interview: 32
Sex: Male
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I don't really talk an awful lot to my male friends about it that much. We don't talk about much anyway. I remember a month or so after I decided to have a counselling session, which I can get through the company, just to really talk about what happened. Not because I needed counselling, but just because I wanted to just go through the process and just talk about it with someone who was not really related to the whole event.  

So that was good just for me to just to talk through the process - like I've done with you here - and just tell them what happened really without any judgments or anything. I did feel [that] they were trying to counsel me the whole time, which wasn't really what I was after, I just wanted a session to talk to someone. Because it is difficult to talk to male friends about it. 
 

He had plenty of time off work and his colleagues and boss were very supportive but eventually he...

He had plenty of time off work and his colleagues and boss were very supportive but eventually he...

Age at interview: 29
Sex: Male
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Father' My closer work colleagues, you know, friends, knew that I was away and knew there was a problem but didn't know the extent. I hadn't spoken to any of them, although I was dealing with one specific person at work who was my boss basically, who was also a friend, and he'd given me time off at work.

The support from them was really good. I think sometimes why I do get emotional, I did shut out some of the help that could have been given, but the nature of my job, I just sort of had to get on with it again. There was a point where they'd given me so much time off and they were right, actually you know, "We think it might be a good idea for you to come back, and you can do it in any way you want to", and again they were very good and very supportive. And that helped me back to work, because it was something I'd got to get on with. 

You know there is a life afterwards that you've got to get on with you know, and that's probably the same for a lot of other dads, that have been through it, yeah. There are days when I don't think about it at all, but obviously today...

Mother' I think about it every day still.

Father' I think about him everyday still, but I don't think about the whole process of everything. 

Other men said they had suffered serious regrets about the loss of a child - some had coped by accepting their feelings philosophically and spiritually, others still found themselves feeling unsettled at odd moments. 

 

After many sleepless nights he eventually had a dream about his baby which helped him accept her...

After many sleepless nights he eventually had a dream about his baby which helped him accept her...

Age at interview: 45
Sex: Male
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It was, it was summer time, and it was hot and I wasn't sleeping terribly well and thinking about it a lot, and I was waking up a lot. And I do remember waking up very soon after having had a very, very intense dream. And it was a little baby's head that looked just like the head on the scan that I'd seen, a very clear, precise picture. And this child's head, baby's head, came up to mine and put its nose right up against my nose and held on to my ears and it said, or it thought, it transmitted this message, saying, 'Don't worry, Daddy, I'm a soul in waiting'. Which sounds a bit sort of off with the fairies really, and I'm not really like that, I'm a sort of very sort of feet on the ground sort of person, but it gave me great hope because I suddenly woke up and thought, 'Gosh, this isn't a baby that, who's, who I didn't see. This is a baby that has a soul, that's still floating around, and the shell didn't work and this baby's waiting to be born'. 

And has that baby been born?

Yeah, yeah. And that's what, the joyful thing about it. And it was a great way of coping with, for me, with the death of this first baby. 
 
 

He knows he made the right decision at the time but now feels more regret about the loss of his...

He knows he made the right decision at the time but now feels more regret about the loss of his...

Age at interview: 49
Sex: Male
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The most the difficult pain is the period leading up to the decision to have the termination, and once we'd gone through that and once we'd had the cremation ceremony, I probably felt myself beginning to move on already, more rapidly than my wife did. 

But I'm beginning to find as my own daughter gets older, the loss of a little brother that she would absolutely dote upon, is an additional loss that I did not contemplate at the time. 

And I probably thought more of the negative aspects at the time of that it could also have very difficult affect on her, that she would be second best to some extent. And so I am conscious that I'm focusing on, I'm still focusing on regret and, I feel sort of regret coming, coming through. And I know that's certainly not my wife's reaction. You know, she her reaction is pain and loss. Mine is pain and loss, but also a bit of regret. And I guess part of that is my own family circumstances where I still think about my mother died of cancer when about the time I left [country]. And it's sort of like, 'Oh did I do the right thing there?' - regret - and so part of that was going through my mind again with the decision to end the pregnancy.  

Guilt there's a huge amount of guilt. And I suppose, I suppose what I am now thinking is... somehow I had the ability to bring a life into the world and I didn't. And I don't know how you advise people during that situation at the time because it's just a personal situation and one has to make at the time, and no one else's experiences - no matter what they are and no matter what you say on this website - are going to prepare you for that, because it's not a situation you expect yourself to be in. 

Some women said that their partners were just as affected by the loss of the baby as they were but had found it difficult to adjust and accept that they needed to get time off work for bereavement. One woman said her partner had rejected counselling even though he clearly needed it and eventually only accepted help when a male GP intervened. Some men joined ARC (Antenatal Results and Choices) with their partners and attended meetings and some also joined the ARC's men's online group which several said had helped them initially. 

 

Says that her partner needed as much time off work as she did to recover from the loss of the baby.

Says that her partner needed as much time off work as she did to recover from the loss of the baby.

Age at interview: 29
Sex: Female
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[Name] my husband was very, very upset as well throughout this whole experience, and he actually went to the partner of my doctor who died and asked for a sick note to recover and to spend time with me, at which point the doctor says, 'Well what do you want one for, you've not lost a baby.'  

And [name], my husband, for once in his life was very forceful and insisted and said, 'It affects me as much as its affecting my wife.' 

And it felt that there were some parts of the medical profession who either didn't read into us enough, didn't care about us enough or just swept us under the carpet. And at that point we changed doctors. It was, he said to me later on down the line, I'd been off for, I think I was off for 6 weeks and the midwife had come to me and said, 'You take as long as you need,' she said, 'You need to recover'. 

And so my sick note ran out, and I went back and said, 'I still don't feel ready,' and he says, 'Look, I'm only going to give you another week then you've got to get yourself back together and get to work'. 

So it was sort of at that point that, 'That's it. I'm not going there again.' And it was sort of not understood how it affects you afterwards. 

And it was, he was very angry at the time with a lot of people, and with what had happened with the post-mortem as well. It just felt... it felt like you were being treated, sort of as a failure, that you hadn't got a live pregnancy at the end of it. 

And because you've actually, you've made the decision to terminate, maybe at certain points it felt like, 'Well, we don't deserve any sympathy. You've got to just get back to being you again.' Whereas I think if it'd had been a miscarriage or something had have happened spontaneously then I think maybe it would have been slightly different. 
 
 

It helped her partner to be able to talk to a GP who had personal experience of ending a pregnancy.

It helped her partner to be able to talk to a GP who had personal experience of ending a pregnancy.

Age at interview: 34
Sex: Female
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My partner, probably like most men, doesn't talk easily about his feelings and his emotions and he said to me it's not because he doesn't not think about her, he just chooses not to talk about her.  

When my GP came to visit me a couple of weeks after we'd had the termination, he also mentioned that him and his wife had had a similar experience about 2 to 3 years previous, and my partner could come and visit him in the surgery. He said make a double or triple appointment so that he can have time to talk about things.  

My partner thought that was a good idea. I think he feels that sometimes it is easier to talk to another person rather than talk to me about things. And he found it very, very helpful talking to the GP. The GP is a gentleman as well so it's possibly easier for men to talk to men. And to have the time to talk about the feelings and emotions was, was good for him. 

And also when the GP came to visit me at home we could talk about our experiences and although they were different, it's the same feelings, the same grief and the same loss that you go through, and it's reassuring to speak to somebody that's gone through it and you know you're not alone And you know that you can get through it - it might take a few months, it might take a few years - but if you talk to people that have the same experiences then you're supported. 

Many women thought that men 'grieved differently' from women because men didn't want to talk about the baby and carried on as if nothing had happened. 

 

She felt angry with her partner at first because he seemed to be coping so well and then she...

She felt angry with her partner at first because he seemed to be coping so well and then she...

Age at interview: 38
Sex: Female
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I think also what, when we were grieving that it was very apparent that men grieve in quite different ways, and it took me a while to suss that out. And it was only through reading books and looking at websites and that I realised that [husband] hadn't had that attachment, perhaps by carrying our baby, that he felt his role was more for me, to support me, although obviously he was very distressed and upset. And our grief was quite different... or he appeared to be coping a lot better than I was. And I, and I got angry at that, because I felt, I was saying, you know, 'Did you love her?' And I was getting very angry about the fact that he didn't seem to be grieving in the same way. 

And it was only after realising and reading and finding out that he was, but just grieving in a very different way. And he said there were times that he wanted to, you know, perhaps break down but he didn't want to because he had to be strong for me. And I think that was a very interesting point that I wish I'd perhaps realised earlier on rather than later on.

Women felt their partners' silence didn't mean they didn't care but that it was a mask for hiding unhappiness. They said that their partners didn't want to break down because they were trying to be strong to support and protect them. Several women said they thought their partners felt 'helpless' because they couldn't do anything in a practical sense to put things right. 

 

Her husband could see she was suffering and found it difficult not being able to do anything to...

Her husband could see she was suffering and found it difficult not being able to do anything to...

Age at interview: 36
Sex: Female
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I think he, I think it's just probably really hard for him because he could see that I was pain and there was absolutely nothing he could do. And, you know, there is the traditional man, the 'provider man', the hunter-type thing, and that is an instinctive thing I think, to probably care for their wife, especially if they're in pain. 

And I do, I think he felt really helpless, and I don't remember anyone being overly sort of... wondering how he was and everything, which is, I mean, it was, I do remember him laughing, half-laughing, coming back and saying, 'Everyone, everyone was asking how you were,' and there was, there was nothing like, I'm sure they did ask he, how he was, but the focus is very much on the Mum, which is not, but it's only half of it. Okay, or maybe 2/3rds of it because we have to go through the physical bit but, you know, they're not, they play a huge part in it as well.

Last reviewed July 2017.

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